PICTURE IMPERFECT
PART TWO

From the Case Files of Dr. Fritz V. Baugh, Ghostbusters International
GBI Case File GBNY 1989-7/052

Previously
In late 1988, the Ghostbusters had been out of business for nearly two years; then Peter Venkman's ex-girlfriend Dana Barrett found herself--or, to be more accurately, her infant son Oscar Wallance--in the sights of an undead despot known as Vigo the Carpathian, who had hidden his essence in a self-portrait at the time of his death nearly four hundred years earlier.

Vigo needed Oscar Wallance so that he might live again.

The Ghostbusters stopped him, and since then their business is again thriving. But in the process of reuniting, they made the decision to hire one of Barrett's former neighbors, Louis Tully, as a company accountant and legal adviser, which seems to have provoked some uncharacteristic reactions from the Ghostbusters' longtime client administrator and unofficial fifth member, Janine Melnitz.

Just a few days ago, though, the Manhattan Museum of Art called up Egon and Ray: they've found a second painting of Vigo the Carpathian in the Restoration Department's backlog! Ray and Egon have brought it back to Ghostbusters Central to determine if it is as dangerous as the one the Ghostbusters had just dealt with weeks before.

Continuity Note: This story takes place not long after the events of Ghostbusters 2, and just after Venkman, Winston, and Slimer's vacation to South Dakota as seen in the Real Ghostbusters episode "Transcendental Tourists" (RGB-201010;#501)

Ghostbusters Central
January 1989
Ghostbusters Omnibus Timeline Year Seven
"Vigo Von Homburg Deutschendorf." Winston Zeddemore shook his head. "I thought we'd seen the last of his ugly mug."

"I still think he'd be happier if you let me paint in a kitten." Peter Venkman quipped. "Maybe he'd be too mellow to want to destroy the world." He sighed. "Dammit, Dana is gonna freak out when I tell her about this."

"We don't know if there's anything to freak out about yet." Egon told him. "The readings have not been conclusive."

"Of course, we were waiting for you guys to get back before we started some of the tests we have in mind." Ray added. "Just in case."

Venkman rolled his eyes. "Yeah, that's reassuring."

Behind them, the orange eyes of the Ghostbusters' resident mascot, Slimer, peeked into the room. Upon seeing the painting, still there since the last time he looked two minutes earlier, he cringed and ducked back out of the doorway.

"We saw Vigo go poof." Winston said. "I mood slimed him out of Ray, then mood slimed his floating head, then you two neutronized him. I know he wasn't really 'destroyed', but is there a chance he's back already? A real chance?"

Ray gave the painting a quick look. "Well, let me show you some of what I've dug up..."

"I ordered these two books a few weeks ago, because they were mentioned by Leon Zundiger." Ray explained, opening a book to a picture showing a skeleton in an ornate robe. "The first one is The Manual of Monsters by the wizard Xagyg. In it he talks about legends of evil sorcerers turning themselves into undead called 'liches' by placing their souls into a phylactery."

Venkman chuckled. "That also keeps them from having baby undead, right?"

Winston shook his head. "Is that all you think about?"

Venkman paused for a beat. "Yes?"

Ray sighed. "Not a prophylactic, Peter, a phylactery--it's used in Judiasm to refer to boxes that hold scriptures, though it's also used in a more generic sense to refer to gem box or even an amulet. In this case, according to Xagyg, it's a sort of supercharged fetter--their physical undead body can be destroyed, but as long as the phylactery still exists, they will eventually rematerialize. They can only be permanently dispersed if the phylactery is destroyed."

Winston glanced at the painting. "I brought my lighter."

Egon rubbed his chin. "What about the second one?"

Ray opened the other book. The accompanying picture was a black-garbed ghoul lacking a nose. "Well, this one isn't a direct mention, but Scamander's Book of Fantastic Beasts talks about a similar legend--how a dark wizard discovered a spell in another book, Secrets of the Darkest Art. It let him create more than one phylactery--except they called them 'horcruxes', and they could even make a horcrux out of a living thing!"

"Burning that painting is looking better all the time." Venkman said. "Winston has the lighter, I can get some marshmallows."

This caused Slimer to peek back around the corner; but then he saw the Vigo picture again and ducked back outside.

"These certainly create some uncomfortable possibilities." Egon agreed. "But we can't be rash--the painting may be completely innocent. We need to conduct further investigation to be sure. But if it is dangerous..." he raised an eyebrow at it. "We will take action."

Venkman whistled as he went back to his desk. Janine was typing something; he thought about making some snarky comment, but for once didn't succumb to the temptation.

He sighed, and glanced at the note he'd taped to his board reading "Send Dad bail money again". He heard the phone ring.

"Ghostbusters!" Janine piped cheerily.

A few seconds later, she appeared beside the file cabinets, holding the phone. "Doctor Venkman, it's for you. A woman. Says it's personal business."

Venkman groaned. "Tell them I've gone to Abu Dhabi or something."

Janine spoke into the phone, a smirk on her face. "Yeah, Dana, he said to tell you he's gone to Abu Dhabi or something, so..."

Venkman grabbed the phone from her. "Give me that!!!"

Janine walked back to her desk, chuckling.

"Sorry about that, Dana." Venkman said. "She was born and raised in Canarsie, so she can't help it."

The voice of Dana Barrett, Venkman's former and current girlfriend, laughed. He liked that sound. "She got you good, though--I'm glad someone's been keeping you something close to honest when I wasn't around."

"Yeah. As fun as having a root canal." Venkman replied breezily. "So what's up?"

Dana sighed, and was quiet for a few seconds. "You know I've been trying to get back with the Orchestra, right? I certainly don't want to go back to the museum now, and with Oscar getting a little older I just...I just need to make music again."

Venkman nodded. "So you mean you got something?"

She was quiet again.

"Dana?"

"Nobody in New York needs a cellist right now." she finally replied. "But a friend of mine heard I was looking, and she knows another friend of ours who knows an orchestra that IS looking for a cellist, and ready to pay twice what I made before."

"Buuuut..."

"It's in Los Angeles."

Venkman exhaled. "Yikes."

"I know..." Dana sighed. "I have until next week to accept or decline, but I'm not sure what to do. The money's great, and I'd be playing again, but my family's here, and...and you."

Venkman was quiet for a moment. "It's a gut punch, I admit. We just got back together. But having just come back to a job I love after a long hiatus, you know I understand that part too."

"Yes. I mean, Oscar's so young that uprooting him probably won't bother him, but still...I'm not sure I want to go."

Venkman smiled warily. "Okay, look, this is a lot to unpack. Here's what we'll do--when I leave here about five, I drop by West Pier Pizza, bring home an extra large with sausage and bacon bits, and we have a nice long talk about this. Oscar's up to solid food, right?"

Dana laughed. "All right, all right...we'll see you then."

After they exchanged good byes, Venkman handed the phone back to Janine and sat back down. I blew this once before...I can't blow it again. But I can't let myself be the reason she doesn't do the right thing for herself and for Oscar. Man, this sucks.

Winston set a container down onto the lab table. "Here it is. This what I think it is?"

Ray nodded. "Yeah. We keep it down in the basement because there's less activity down there, so less chance of stray emotional states affecting it. As long as there's not another 'nobody's fault' Containment Unit leak it should be just fine."

Winston chuckled. "Don't say stuff like that when Peter isn't in here to be reminded that it wasn't his fault."

Slimer peeked in the door, but sure enough, saw the Vigo painting and ducked back out.

Egon had the Giga Meter in hand, and an activated PKE Meter on a table. "The psychomagnetheric slime flow diminished quickly after Vigo's defeat; we were lucky to get what we could."

"I'm just glad the stuff in the Statue of Liberty didn't disperse until we got it back to Staten Island." Ray nodded. "We've been developing some theories about how we could make more, though."

Winston nudged Ray with an elbow. "Try some Barry White music, Man."

Ray looked confused.

Egon coughed. "Anyway, to the matter at hand. Winston?"

Winston, wearing a proton pack, thumbed the charging switch.

Egon nodded. "Ray, open the container."

Ray nodded, then tagged the release to the bucket-like container's lid.

Winston grimaced. "Why's it yellow now?"

Ray shrugged. "Good question. Maybe it's a sign of a more neutral state?"

Egon stared at the giga meter. "The psychomagnetheric flow is still...almost flatline."

Ray sighed. "Aw, man."

"Ray, you sound like you're disappointed that opening this stuff didn't make Vigo come to life and start dancing the Batusi!" Winston griped.

Ray shrugged. "Yeah, but think of what we would have learned from that!"

Janine sighed as she ate the last bite of her sandwich.

"That was low of you, Melnitz." Venkman had growled at her after he'd hung up with Dana.

She'd shrugged, replied "I haven't had nearly as many opportunities to jerk your chain the last couple years, Dr. Venkman. This was too good to pass up."

He hadn't said anything else when she left to go have lunch. But as she ate, she berated herself.

He's right, though. That was too much like the old you. The ugly, bitchy, scary, mean you. That wasn't the way a perfect person would act.

She shook her head. That scene with Venkman isn't really what's bugging you, is it? It's what Egon said yesterday...

"I also considered the possibility that you were affected by the recent psychomagnetheric surge related to Vigo's attempt to manifest. So you haven't noticed any...unusual sensations lately?"

She didn't know what to think about that.

It'd be so easy to blame the way I've been acting lately on that, wouldn't it? And he's right...I haven't felt like myself since I rejoined the Ghostbusters...but what about...

What about what you did to cause it, Egon?!

Things had been going so well. I worked at Columbia...took your calls, helped you remember what you needed to do to function in the "real world"...it was almost like being back with the Ghostbusters--except you weren't going to get called in the middle of the night to go battle demons intending to turn New York into a crispy-fried taco supreme.

But then the Ghostbusters came back.

You tuned me out--you were too busy trying to solve the mystery of the River of Slime. Too busy dealing with criminals from the future. Too busy helping Venkman score points by solving Dana Barrett's problem to pay much attention to me...

Louis Tully wasn't exactly my vision of studliness. But dammit...it was so nice to have a man actually pay attention to me...find me interesting...find me desirable...

She shook her head. That's all it is, isn't it? River of Slime or not, I was lonely and a bit desperate. I was weak. Weak and imperfect.

She drank the last of her chamomile tea and stood up.

I can't let this go on any further. I owe it to Egon, and Louis, and especially myself to get this thing dealt with before it gets any worse.

Venkman flipped through the pages of the latest issue of Celebrity..."Dammit, Alice Johnson misspelled my name again....I swear she does that on purpose..."

"Um...Peter?" a voice almost squeaked.

Venkman looked up to see Louis. "Oh, hey, Louis...yeah, good job on the GBI restart. Those guys in northern Virginia especially, what with..." Venkman stopped. "You look nervous. Well, more nervous than usual, because you always look nervous."

Louis made a couple of furtive glances toward the front of the Firehouse. "I kinda got a problem going on, Peter, and I hope you can give me some help."

"Well, I am a trained psychologist."

"Yeah, well, it's more...well....you are just so great at talking to women you know and..."

Venkman's Cheshire grin appeared. "Aha! Though hast been bewitched by a member of the fairer sex! Thou hast chosen wisely to seek my counsel!"

Louis gulped. It wasn't easy for him asking this for a variety of reasons. "Well yeah...I met this girl recently well actually I met her a few years ago but didn't really talk to her then and I was still stuck on Dana so I didn't really notice her..."

Venkman nodded. "Yeah, I know how that goes. But c'mon, you spent several months dating all those Yugoslavian models when the Keymaster Cologne thing was big! How bad at this could you be?"

Louis wiped his brow. "That was different I had a lot of money then and that's really all those girls wanted was me to spend a lot of money on them but when I invested in New Coke and got wiped out they all wouldn't talk to me any more besides this girl's...you know, different."

Venkman shrugged. "The first thing you gotta learn is, yeah, every woman is different. But I've dated a lot of women in my younger, wilder years, my friend, so I think I can give you some pointers. So...dish it! You gone on any dates yet?"

"Um...sortof..." Louis replied, looking toward the door again. "It wasn't a real date but things did get kinda hot she was all handsy with me on the couch but then we were interrupted and since then she keeps trying to avoid me and I don't know what to do Peter...I hope you can help me because you know her so well and all..."

Venkman's grin turned into open-mouthed confusion. "I do?"

"Well yeah...it's Janine!"

"Maybe try to move the container closer..." Egon was starting to say, when an enormous bubble popped out of the slime.

"Whoa! What the?" Ray exclaimed.

The slime started to turn an angry red color.

"Hm..." Egon was studying the reading on the Giga Meter; he didn't seem to notice the tentacle appear from the slime...

"Egon, get down!" Winston shouted, and sent a quick, low power burst into the tentacle before it grabbed the distracted physicist. The tentacle withdrew.

A sepulcher voice moaned "...be gone, you pitiful half-men..."

All three Ghostbusters gasped. Slimer, who was at the edge of the scene, screamed and flew quickly away.

"Vigo! He talked!" Ray sputtered excitedly. "And the slime!"

Egon's eyes narrowed. "But why?"

Janine had barely gotten in the door when an obviously furious Peter Venkman glowered at her; he pushed Louis forward, almost throwing him at her, and snarled "Melnitz! Explain this!!!"

Janine gulped, hoping against hope he wasn't asking about what he almost certainly was asking her about.

"Explain what?" Janine asked as facetiously as she could manage. Maybe I screwed up that invoice from the Captain Nemo job or something...

Louis started to stammer, but Venkman cut him off, the taller man's face contorting into a sour, mocking expression. " 'It wasn't a real date but things did get kinda hot Janine was all handsy with me on the couch'." His voice was as mocking as his expression.

Janine's face drained of all color. Oh shit...

"And on my couch?!" Venkman roared. "You did this to Egon on my couch?!"

"...wait what does Doctor Spengler have to do with..." Louis started to squeak.

"Holy fucking shit! You didn't even tell Tully about Egon?!"

The confrontational manner, the mockery...her own guilt and frustration...later she'd think maybe she should have handled it better, but right now, with Venkman in her face, Janine's "perfect" demeanor crumbled, and the angry Brooklynite came out. "What's there to tell, Venkman?! The guy who's spent five years treating me like some kind of annoying yappy poodle interrupting his grand march of science, that what you mean?! You think you have the right to tell me what to do and who I do it with when I'm not here answering your damn phone?!"

What Venkman would have said next--and it probably would have been a beaut--was lost when Slimer screamed down the stairs and tackled him.

"OW! What the hell, Spud, can't you see I'm busy?!?!" Venkman shouted, as the green ghost kept babbling fearfully.

Louis meanwhile was looking around, trying to decide whether to hide in the bathroom or just flee the firehouse entirely.

"Wait Slimer, slow down!" Janine said. "What do you mean 'the evil slime is eating Egon'?!"

Fifteen seconds later Venkman and Janine ran into the laboratory, expecting the worst.

Egon wasn't being eaten by the 'evil slime'; instead, he and Ray were both studying their respective instruments. Winston's nutrona wand was armed and ready.

"...Mountain of skulls...castle of pain...throne of blood...what was will be...what is will be no more..."

"Holy crap--it is like a horcrux!!!" Ray said excitely.

"Egon! Are you all right?!" Janine asked. "Slimer said the slime was eating you!"

Egon glanced at her, then went back to studying the Giga Meter. "There was a reaction from the slime a moment ago, but it quickly subsided. Though it seems to have provoked a distinct reaction in the painting."

"No shit." Venkman deadpanned.

Slimer was at the edge of the doorway, his revulsion at the painting battling his concern for his friends. Louis, having decided not to flee the building, was right next to him.

"Wonder what caused the slime to react?" Ray mused.

Egon looked back around. "Was there any sort of emotional outburst downstairs within the last two minutes or so?"

Venkman nodded, his face going back to an expression of anger. "Oh boy, was there."

Winston noted the slime bubbled again as Venkman said that.

"That sort of event might explain it--the slime must have been reacting to an extreme emotional response. That in turn, as the slime was created by Vigo in the first place, caused a reaction in the painting." Egon nodded.

"Death is but a door. Time is but a window."

"He doesn't seem to actually be very conscious yet, though." Ray noted. "He's just spouting some of his prophesies so far."

"I'm just glad you're all right!" Janine chirped. "I was worried about you!"

Venkman made a dismissive noise. "Bull. Shit."

"Dr. Venkman..." she started to say.

"You wanna know why I was so pissed, Egon?!" Venkman continued, voice raising. "It was because I just found out than on New Year's Eve she was playing footsie with Louis!"

Egon looked around. For half a second, his expression was confused. He looked at Venkman. Looked at Janine. And then back at his meter.

"Oh." he finally said, simply.

Winston noticed two or three bubbles in the slime.

"On my couch!!!" Venkman reiterated. "Now I gotta fumigate the thing! Hell, I may have to throw it out! Otherwise, I'll think about her degrading herself every time I sit on it!"

"Thanks a lot, Venkman, thanks a lot!!!" Janine shouted, and stormed out of the room.

" I see the evil of the times to come. The cycle of far away wars was complete at six, with rise, fall, and redemption followed by balance and peace. But the pretenders will start three new terrible wars in the name of greed, and all that was gained was lost."

"Maybe you better go after her, Man." Winston poked Egon's arm. Venkman pantomimed slapping Egon on the back of his head.

"What she does in her own spare time is none of our business." Egon said. "It's not relevant."

Winston's face hardened. "Okay, now I want to hit him..."

Venkman rolled his eyes and groaned.

Louis followed her to the garage, where she was putting on her coat. "Wait!" he called.

She looked at him sheepishly. "Louis, I..."

"Is what Peter said true? You and Dr. Spengler had some kind of thing? Is that why you put me in his jump suit even though it didn't fit?" Louis asked. "Is that all I am, some kind of Egon substitute?"

She sighed. "I don't....I don't know, Louis. So much has happened so fast and I don't understand it all. I owe you a long talk...but I can't do it right now. I'm going home...just leave me alone for a few days..."

"What should I tell Peter and the others?"

"They know where to find me." She shook her head. "And I'm sorry. To them and to you."

She walked out of the firehouse.

Sitting behind the steering wheel of her yellow Volkswagen, the tears started to flow. I couldn't have handled any of that worse if I'd tried...and Egon....Adonai, could he have acted like it had bothered him any less? What the fuck am I doing here?

Maybe Venkman and Winston had the right idea...use some of that vacation time I have built up to figure that out.

"So...time for Winston's lighter and some marshmallows?" Venkman asked.

"No." Egon said firmly.

"What?" Winston said, obviously surprised.

"This is Vigo, right? You know, the Torturer? The Despised? The Unholy? The Butch?" Venkman asked.

"...Scourge of Carpathia...Sorrow of Moldavia..."

"Yeah, all that too." Winston added. "Why not get rid of him now while we can?"

"Because we don't know if we'd be doing that." Egon answered. "We don't know how many other...'horcrucis'...he might have."

"Yeah...this one was just a few rooms away in storage in the museum when we beat him." Ray nodded, realizing what Egon was saying. "So he went into this one. But look what happened--he was dormant until we brought the slime in the room, and provided a negative emotional stimulus!"

"We could probably destroy the painting quite easily." Egon said. "But it would basically release his essence to go to a different horcrux."

"One that isn't residing inside the secure laboratory of the world foremost paranormal investigators and eliminators!" Ray continued excitedly.

"How 'secure' this place can be is questionable." Venkman sighed.

"Upon the splintered bones of men, I feed."

"We'll move the slime back down to the basement." Egon noted. "The painting should return to an inert state without it."

"And hey, think of it this way, it'll be a great early warning to any strong negative psychomagnetheric events!" Ray said. "If he starts blabbing again, we'll know there's trouble coming!"

" 'Negative psychomagnetheric events'...great..." Venkman rolled his eyes. "This is a mayoral election year, you know."

Winston sighed. "I really don't think this is a good idea."

"We will continue to study the painting, and the lore that Ray previously described." Egon continued. "Our end goal will be the same as with any malevolent paranormal entity: as soon as we can find a way to extract his psychokinetic trace from the painting and contain it, we will."

"I guess this is the best we can get then." Winston rolled his eyes, holstering his thrower. "Ray, help me get the slime back down to the basement."

" I see the evil of the times to come. The Guardian of Love makes a terrible choice counter to all understanding, and thus the Knight of Courage was betrayed, and the Knight of Friendship gained an unearned victory."

As Ray and Winston took the canister, Venkman looked at Egon, his expression uncommonly serious. "So anything else?"

Egon looked away from him. "Should there be?" But as he did, Venkman noticed the knuckles of the hand holding the Giga Meter were very white.

Venkman again pantomimed smacking Egon on the back of the head.

Then Venkman's left eyebrow shot up, and his Cheshire grin appeared again. "I still think we should stack the deck on keeping this guy calm, though. I know just the thing!" He picked up a piece of paper and doodled a crude drawing of a cat; he tucked it into the painting's frame. "There!"

Egon rolled his eyes.

"...The kitten...pleases me..."

When Venkman came down the stairs, Louis was there, looking, once again, even more nervous than usual.

"Do I..." Louis gulped. "Do I still have a job, Peter?"

Venkman sighed long and hard, sitting at his desk. "Yeah. Don't get me wrong--I'm not happy about what happened in the slightest. Egon and Janine are both being very very wrong about things right now, but one thing they both said in their own ways that's right is that what happened away from this place doesn't have anything to do with the job you're doing."

Louis exhaled. Slimer high-fived him.

"However..." Venkman continued.

Louis gulped again.

"Your behavior in the office is going to be squeaky-clean professional from here on out, is that clear? And I'm going to tell her the exact same thing. You step over that line..." He slashed his index finger across his throat.

"..Crystal clear..." Louis said weakly.

"And one more thing..."

"Yeah?"

"You owe me a new couch."

Egon Spengler sank into his chair, still breathing hard.

He looked at where he'd hurled the Giga Meter; it had hit one of the Firehouse's structural supports and shattered into about a dozen pieces.

He took off his glasses and ran his hands through his hair.

"Dammit..." he snarled out loud.

I've spent five years saying this is exactly what I wanted. For her to find someone else, to stop distracting me. That being the person she wants me to be would mean I couldn't be the scientist my Father wanted me to be. The perfect scientist.

Paul Smart I understood. I didn't like it, and turned out to be right not to trust him...but he was also rich, glamorous, and successful. Someone like that...who could give her everything I can't.

But Louis Tully?



LOUIS TULLY?!?!







This is a fucking insult.

Epilogue
October 1989
Enough was enough.

He had barely said six words to her since the day Louis blurted all about their New Year's fling...

And now the four Ghostbusters were getting ready to fly a zeppelin into the Earth's core to fight an evil dinosaur (yeah, how many other people got to say that about their jobs?)

She swallowed hard, and walked up to him as he studied some blueprints, pretending not to notice her walking up to him.

"Egon, I've been waiting for a chance to talk to you, but I haven't seen you in days!!!"

He spared one quick look over the edge of the paper. "Unfortunately, we're attempting to equip a state of the art zeppelin, and that tends to be time consuming."

"I know that." she replied, trying to keep her voice under control. "You'll be gone for weeks. Should I just hang an 'On Vacation' sign on the door or what?"

He lowered the blueprints, looking ever so slightly annoyed that she was bothering him. Good. "There won't be anything else you can do." he replied flatly. He looked back down at the papers. "It'll give you more time to spend with Louis. But don't let him drive the Ectomobile. It could be..."

Oh, thank you for bringing that up, Doctor.

"Egon! Can't you see? Louis is sweet, but he's harmless." She stood on her toes to look him in the eye, and grabbed his arm, sticking her left index finger in his face. "He just happened to be there while you were too wrapped up saving the world to pay any attention to anything else!!!"

His teeth gritted. "Well, er, that is..." Then his face softened. Can it be? Is that actually...contrition in his eyes? And...hurt?

"Janine, I know what you're saying. I'd like to take you with us, but I'd be too worried about you to concentrate on the mission."

She felt her anger sliding away. He never said things like this. "Worried? About me?"

"We're going to enter a strange and savage domain. I can't unduly risk anyone, particularly someone I..." Adonai, he blushed slightly. "Well...care about..."

"You're worried and you care." she repeated, not being able to help savoring the words. "Coming from you, that's almost as nice as a kiss..."

There was an uncharacteristically mischievous glint in his eye, and a hint of a smile as he replied "Perhaps when I return..."

She hugged him quickly. "I'll hold you to that 'perhaps', Mister Spengler..."

She strode off quickly. She had a lot to do...

Egon realized that Ray and Winston had seen the end of that little exchange. "Janine is a very enthusiastic young woman..." he noted sheepishly.

The two other Ghostbusters exchanged a look of mutual amusement. "We noticed..." Winston finally said.

Maybe things were going to be all right after all...

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Based on Ghostbusters Created by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis